- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 12, 2001

JERUSALEM — Israeli leaders, still seething with barely suppressed anger over a suicide bomb that killed 20 Israelis in Tel Aviv on June 1, are increasingly coming to the conclusion that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat should be toppled.
"I think that Israel now feels theres no more incentive to preserving Arafat and his administration," said Israeli political scientist Barry Rubin, who is writing a book on the Palestinian leader.
"What were talking about is a series of political and military measures that would force his collapse," he said.
In the tense hours after the Tel Aviv bomb, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon considered some of the harshest military measures yet against Mr. Arafats administration. Some analysts think he even contemplated forcing its collapse.
Instead, he suspended any retaliation in the face of Mr. Arafats declaration of a cease-fire, and for a week and a half the region has enjoyed relative quiet and sharply reduced violence. But with Palestinian militants pledging to continue striking at Israel, there is little confidence on either side that the calm can last.
Israeli government spokesmen and military officials have repeatedly forsworn the idea of assassinating Mr. Arafat — who arrived in Gaza in 1994 under the Oslo peace deal reached with Israel — or forcing him back into exile.
One reason is a concern that the West Bank and Gaza could slide into utter chaos without his leadership. Even after the suicide attack, a top Israeli military official assured foreign correspondents the Jewish state was "not interested in the Palestinian Authoritys collapse."
His words might have been reassuring for Mr. Arafat had it not been for some ominous signs.
Since the bombing, the deadliest Palestinian guerrilla attack in at least five years, Israel has prevented Mr. Arafat from leaving the West Bank and returning to Gaza, the seat of his self-rule administration.
In an interview last week with Russian television — most victims of the Palestinian suicide bombing were immigrants from the former Soviet Union — Mr. Sharon described Mr. Arafat in the harshest language yet, calling him a "murderer" and a "pathological liar."
"He doesnt behave like a head of state… . He behaves like a head of terrorists and murders," Mr. Sharon said.
Both Israeli and Palestinian analysts interpreted the remarks as more than just name-calling.
"Its overt goal is to prepare public opinion, in Israel and around the world, for a large-scale military operation that will topple the Palestinian Authority and lead to Arafats expulsion," wrote columnist Sever Plotzker in the Israeli Yediot Ahronot newspaper.
Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in an opinion piece he penned for the Jerusalem Post recently, argued that Israel must be willing to use "any means necessary" to halt Palestinian guerrilla attacks, "even if that entails the end of the Palestinian Authority."
"Arafat does not care about the Palestinian people, but he certainly cares whether his own regime survives," Mr. Netanyahu wrote, under the headline "We Can Stop the Terror."
The article is as much about domestic Israeli politics — Mr. Netanyahu is rivaling Mr. Sharon for leadership of the conservative Likud party — as it is about Israels evolving posture toward Mr. Arafat after eight months of fighting in the West Bank and Gaza and more than 500 casualties.
But it marks the first time an extremely popular Israeli leader has openly advocated ousting Mr. Arafat. It also raises pressure on Mr. Sharon to follow suit.
Implicit in the Israeli argument about Mr. Arafat is the assertion that he controls the violence and could stop the shootings and bombings by giving the right orders. The reduction in violence in the past week appears to bear that out.
But a low-level conflict continues. Two persons died yesterday, one Israeli and one Palestinian, from wounds sustained last week.
Mr. Rubin, the political scientist, said it might be enough for Israel to make Mr. Arafat think he was headed for disaster.
"The goal in political science is often to get your opponent to act out of worry. He has to worry that his administration is going to collapse.
"You dont have to necessarily overthrow Arafat or bring him down, but you have to make him concerned that unless he halts the violence, he faces a very, very serious danger."
One Palestinian academic turned the Israeli argument on its head.
Abdullah Hourani, a strategic analyst in Gaza, said the political vacuum that would ensue if Mr. Arafat stepped aside would be more dangerous for Israel than the status quo.
"Chaos on your border is always worse than belligerency," Mr. Hourani said in a recent interview.
His advice for the Palestinian leader: "Arafat should threaten to dissolve his own administration if he doesnt get what he wants. Nothing could be worse for Israel."

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